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EPA document on cooling water intake rule is encouraging, say EEI, NEI

From the June 7, 2012 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published June 7, 2012

The Environmental Protection Agency's latest public document about the rule it is developing on standards for cooling water intake structures appears encouraging for the electricity industry, said officials with the Edison Electric Institute and the Nuclear Energy Institute.

The EPA on May 31 issued a draft "Notice of Data Availability" sharing new information it has gathered since April 2011, when the agency published proposed standards for cooling water intake structures under Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act. The rule would apply to power plants and manufacturing plants that withdraw cooling water at the rate of 2 million gallons or more per day. It would apply to 670 power plants, the agency estimates.

Based on an initial review, "we are encouraged by the EPA’s Notice of Data Availability on its proposal to regulate utility cooling water intake structures, said Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn. "The NODA incorporates new information EPA received in comments and during power plant site visits and seeks public comment on vital concerns to the utility industry," he said. "These issues must be fleshed out and appropriately addressed as the administration works toward finalizing a rule this summer that protects aquatic life in a flexible and cost-effective manner."

The EPA will take public comment on the notice for 30 days after the NODA is published in the Federal Register.

The Nuclear Energy Institute said the notice "is a step in the right direction." Among other things, the latest document "indicates that EPA is willing to reconsider the proposed national numeric performance standard for impingement, and allow more flexible compliance options to accommodate diversity of the ecosystems," said Richard Myers, NEI’s vice president of policy development, planning and supplier programs.

Cooling water used by power plants and other facilities removes billions of fish, fish larvae and eggs, shellfish, crustaceans, sea turtles, marine mammals and other marine life from U.S. rivers and lakes, according to the EPA. Most impacts are to early life stages of fish and shellfish through impingement (being crushed against screens water intake screens) and entrainment (being sucked into equipment).

In its original draft rule, issued in April 2011, the EPA proposed a mortality standard for fish that would apply uniformly to all power plants in the United States. Electric utility groups have argued that such a one-size-fits-all approach would not take into account regional differences in aquatic organisms.

"EPA also places more emphasis on cost-benefit analysis in the NODA, which will help protect consumers from a sharp rise in electricity costs with little or no corresponding environmental benefit," said NEI's Myers.

Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act requires that National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for facilities with cooling water intake structures ensure that the location, design, construction and capacity of the structures reflect the best technology available to minimize harmful impacts on the environment.

More information about the agency's proposed rule, including the May 31 pre-publication draft of the NODA, is on the EPA's website.


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